Friday Five: April 1973

5. “The Cisco Kid” by War
They are one of the signature Chicano-sound bands of the 70s though they weren’t Chicano. These southern Californians absorbed the sounds of the southland and made their mark with songs like this one, their biggest hit (it peaked at #2 on the Hot 100 and #5 on the R&B charts in April). It’s a unique musical number, playful with its nostalgic reference to an old western show and suggestive of the themes and sounds that made them such Chicano favorites. It’s worthy first track on The World is a Ghetto, the album from which it came.

4. “Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I’ve Got)” by the Four Tops
How in the world did Berry Gordy ever let the Four Tops leave Motown? While Motown moved West to LA, focus most of their attention on Diana Ross and the Jackson 5, some of the greats of the label got left behind and found other deals with other companies. Such was the case with the Four Tops. This was their biggest post-Motown single, peaking at #2 on the R&B charts and #4 on the Hot 100. It shows the group still had their signature vocal chops as well as the ability to go more soulful than they ever did with Motown.

3. Neither One of Us (Wants to be the First to Say Goodbye) by Gladys Knight & the Pips
I think Gladys Knight is one of the greatest singers in popular music history. Treated like a second-class act by the Motown label, Knight and her Pips recorded this song on what would be their last Motown album, Neither One of Us. By the time this single started to climb the charts (it spent four weeks atop the R&B charts from March into the first week of April and peaked at #2 on the Hot 100) they were already recording for their new label. Later that summer they’d release “Midnight Train to Georgia,” their greatest song ever.

2. “Funky Worm” by the Ohio Players
It peaked at #4 on the R&B charts in April 1973, a few weeks before hitting #1 the following month. It never cracked the top 10 on the Hot 100. This early 70s piece of synthetic soul/funk made a bigger splash than the charts suggest. It’s one of the prominent sample sources for some amazing West Coast hip-hop, bestowing upon it a legendary status forevermore.

1. “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” by Tony Orlando and Dawn
A New York Post story about a former convict returning home (reprinted in the Reader’s Digest) led some to think this song was about the same sort of character. The writers (Irwin Levine and L. Russell Brown) took their cue from the military tradition stretching back to the Civil War. No matter the source, the optimism of the January 1973 peace accords (which seemed to signal the end to the US war in Vietnam) likely had something to do with the massive success of the song as recorded by Tony Orlando and his background singers “Dawn” (Thelma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent Wilson). It ruled the top spot on the Hot 100 for four weeks beginning in late April 1973. I’ll be honest: I don’t really like the song (I do love “Candida” and “Knock Three Times” and I grew up watching Tony Orlando and Dawn on TV) but the song is the undeniable hit for the period. I will say this: it’s kind of funny that two of their biggest hits are about a guy who requires his girl give some sort of symbolic communication to let him know how she feels. Just ask her already!

Friday Five: 1975

I can’t say for certain when my earliest memories are from, but I’m sure they are from no later than 1975.

It was a big year for my (nuclear) family. In ’75 we were a family of 4, my folks and my older sister, and we were living in a rental in Montebello, part of the sphere of LA’s Eastside. I remember that place, the broken TV, the area where the cat ate, the room I shared with my sister, which also housed the locker-style closets where my dad kept his clothes. We bought our first house that year, out in La Puente, which is about 12 miles or so east of East LA.

My folks chose to move eastward because they couldn’t afford a home in the East LA area, but our life still mostly revolved around LA. My folks both worked there, my grandparents lived there, and so did most of my uncles, aunts, and cousins. Not surprisingly, we spent a lot of our time there. But my family’s move to the San Gabriel Valley wasn’t a rare event. Tens of thousands of Chicano and Chicana baby boomers were doing the same, transforming these smaller suburban cities and towns into an extension of Chicana/o LA.

It was a great year in music, too. Fleetwood Mac released their (second) self-titled album, their first with Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. It remains one of my favorite full albums of any band, and the song “Rhiannon” is untouchable. “Love Will Keep Us Together” by the Captain & Tennille topped the charts. As musical and TV celebrities who worked as a duo, they’d be influential for me and my sister, who liked (to force me) to perform as Donny & Marie, Captain & Tennille, or any other boy/girl pairing. Elvis entered recorded and released his last studio album, Today, on May 7th. Queen released Night at the Opera and the single “Bohemian Rhapsody” toward the end of the year.

These 5 songs are all from that most auspicious of years, although most are songs that would mean something more to me as the years passed.

5. “Lowrider” (War)
This is as close to a “Chicano anthem” as it gets. A southern California band (they’re largely from the South Bay area of Long Beach) that blended the multiethnic flavor of working-class communities, War was a slow, rhythmic, funky, rock, jazz, blues, Latin hybrid. “Lowrider” is quintessentially LA and Chicano, maybe even East LA and Chicano. And carries that load without much more than a fantastic beat and rhythm, and without a Chicano in the band! From the album Why Can’t We Be Friends

4. “Sara Smile” (Hall & Oates)
Wikipedia tells me this song wasn’t released as a single until 1976, so its a cheat (maybe) for this year. But it was part of the famed duo’s 1975 album, Daryl Hall & John Oates, and is the song that put the pair on the musical trajectory that made them “famed” to begin with. I love–LOVE–this song for so many reasons, the guitar intro, the strings on the melody, the harmonies, and that falsetto voice from Darryl Hall. Overall, I have a lot of respect for them as a group. Whether or not you cared for them, for somebody of my generation they were one of the heaviest influences on the sound of late-70s into early-80s pop music.

3. “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” (Paul Simon)
The historian in me can appreciate the historic significance of Paul Simon to the lives of millions of white Americans coming of age in the 60s. The music fan in me gets it, too. I’m a fan of most of the work of Simon and Garfunkel. I can also appreciate that this makes him a special cultural figure for a whole bunch of folks hitting their thirties in the 70s, and coming to terms with life as adults in post-industrial America. All that is to say I “get” the place of his solo, post-divorce 1975 album Still Crazy After All These Years. None of this has anything to do with me, though. It has a lot to do with how I remember learning about him. I remember watching SNL re-runs of his performances in those early years, I remember watching the video of his famous Central Park concerts, and I can remember hearing this song so many times in the decade I became aware. Something about the drum intro and guitar work still takes me back. I found it a fascinating song at some point, probably around the time I was 7 or 8, and I still do now.

2. “Love Rollercoaster” (Ohio Players)
Including this song is kind of a different sort of cheat for me. It’s the only song I really “love” from the album Honey, although I have to admit, I don’t remember it at all being associated with this album. I do remember the songs “Honey” and “Let’s Do It” and even “Ain’t Giving Up No Ground,” all from side A. The horns from “Let’s Do It” actually bring back the smell of vinyl and record cleaner to my mind. But that’s all irrelevant to why this album is really etched in my memory like no other. The album cover of Honey features a seemingly naked women pouring honey in her mouth. When you opened it up, she was completely naked with honey all over her body. Needless to say, I used to look at that album much more often than I used to listen to it. That said, it’s an excellent groove, the stand-out track on the album.

1. “Better Off Without a Wife” (Tom Waits)
I remember the first time I ever heard–I mean really heard–Tom Waits. It was the night before my 21st birthday, and I was coming down after a fun night/morning in my friend’s dorm room and he put on Nighthawks at the Diner, Waits’ 1975 live album. I knew the later Tom Waits, especially his 1992 album Bone Machine, which is still my favorite. But I don’t think I had ever heard his early stuff. I was immediately sucked in. His humor and his performance of this wasted beatnik kind of character that he kind of played then, it was surprising, and fascinating, and so entertaining. I’ve always been a sucker for live stuff, recordings that capture a moment or event are even better. The crowd here is very much a part of what I love the most. This song remains one of my favorites just because of the way Waits talks story leading into it. It’s still a funny performance, especially if one buys into the character he’s playing. It seems kind of grown-up, too, in a 20-30 year-old kind of post 1960s way. I’m not sure I have the words to say what it does for me, even though the song itself is, admittedly, kind of stupid. You can see the master in the making, though…

Veterans Day

I am the son of a veteran. I am the nephew of a veteran. I am the friend of veterans.  I am the friend and relative of future veterans.

Veterans Day–formerly Armistice Day, marking the end of the “Great War” (World War I)–is a day of both gratitude and moral urgency for me.  I know enough in my own life to not stereotype the motivations and nature of participation of the men and women who serve in combat roles in the US military.  My pacifist and anti-nationalist politics don’t preclude me for having a deep respect for people who bring politicians’ decisions into reality, however willingly or not they do so. Knowing both a little bit about the results of those actions, that respect comes with a certain sense of sadness, too. Even if one survives, there are few who participate in war who are spared by it.

And that frames the moral urgency of a day like this.  Veterans Day is a day to focus some thought and attention on assuring the future demise of the holiday.  We live in a world where the prospect of war seems immutable until we discover the depth of the prospect of peace.  Then we should be compelled to act to end this human folly.

I long for a day when there are no more veterans to mark a day like this; when people never have to make the choice whether or not to “defend their country”; when families never have to suffer the pain of separation and loss; and when the involvement of the US in millions of human lives around the world is not dominated by its ability to bring death and suffering.

Barack Obama is about to make a decision on the war in Afghanistan. At this point, all that is unknown is how many more troops he will send.  It is the wrong decision. You might feel like you don’t have the expertise to say that; like the military leadership who is asking for more troops represent the select few who can really judge. You would be wrong if you thought that.  That you do is perhaps understandable, but it is also part of the problem.  When we abdicate our responsibility to think and feel like humanists we contribute to the obliteration of any humanist possibility.  The sad truth is that there are those who think that any military situation can be “won” militarily.  History is proof that this is not the case. The future need not continue to confirm this further.

Liz Cheney is, sadly, no “farce”

Liz Cheney–spawn of Dick–shared her views on Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize on, of course, FOX News.

She labeled Obama’s award as a “farce,” not because he is a wartime president but because the Nobel Committee wants us all “to live in the world where the US is not dominant.” She said Obama should refuse to attend the award ceremony and instead send the mother of a soldier who died in combat, to stress the importance of war.

After all, each member of the Nobel Committee “sleeps soundly at night because the U.S. military is the greatest peacekeeping force in the world today.”

You can read and watch more of her rantings and warmonggering spew here.

It would be easy for me to dismiss Cheney as “evil” since, well, I’m pretty sure she is. But she is nothing magical, nothing all that unique. She is morally bankrupt, serious and dedicated to fomenting a form of political fascism steeped in nationalistic fervor. She advocates for a world of desperation, of the starvation of rights and humanity, all in the name of pride and profit and a narrow vision of who is deserving.

She is a visceral reminder of the national and global context in which Obama won this distinction.

Obama’s Nobel Win is not Global Affirmative Action

When I first heard Barack Obama won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize I reacted with a fair amount of surprise. And then terror.

While I have only been a lukewarm supporter of the President’s initial period in office–less than impressed with his commitment to corporate welfare, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and avoidance of issues confronting immigrant and LGBT equality–I am an avid ally of him as a fellow person of color.

I can appreciate the difficulty of a fairly progressive-minded, person of color has when they occupy the most powerful political seat in this nation.  We are a nation that has refused in bold and multiple ways to confront its white supremacist past, and the powerfully lingering ways that past structures our present.  The social and cultural baggage of more than two centuries of this great failure is lifted and carried by all those who choose to bear its load, and all people of color whether or not they so choose.  Barack Obama, in many ways, carries a share beyond measure.

So when I heard he had won, the second thing that came to my mind was that this would be used by his opponents.  When I opened up my news app to read about the award, one of the first voices I read was Republican chairman Michael Steele’s who asked “What has President Obama actually accomplished?” Most early coverage grappled with this question, baffled by the President’s distinction coming at a time when he officiates over two wars and struggles on the domestic front to secure his and his party’s agenda.  What I knew would be coming were even more racially-infused analyses, ones putting his award into question as they imply he was nothing more than a recipient of global affirmative action.

While I, too, was surprised that Obama won the award, it is not an unjustified recognition.

The U.S. has a difficult time thinking beyond its borders, and making sense of this award is nearly all about that.  The Nobel Committee bestowed this distinction not for his domestic struggles but for his leadership on the global stage.  While we are stuck in the health care and immigration debates–both of which DO relate to hemispheric peace–our President has also been acting for peace in the global arena.  Whether in his support of a nuclear free world, or for meaningful efforts to check global warming, Obama has been active in progressive ways beyond our borders.

Of course, he has already begun accumulating a list of omissions on that same stage, issues and conflicts to which he and his administration have been all too silent, or vocal in less than productive ways.  But the award is not a litmus test of issues as much as it is a process of possibility.

And here is where race may be involved.  There is a powerful element to his international distinction that comes with his race.  It is not just because he is black, but this distinction does come from the ways he is connected to his blackness.  That might seem confusing, but it’s really not.  Barack Obama has made himself a national and international voice for those who do not have one.  In his consistent rhetoric (and in measured ways beyond) he has shown that the issues confronting the poor and the marginalized are significant and worthy of deliberation at the highest of political levels.  Perhaps more important is the sense of moral imperative he gives to these issues.  This is, I think, a significant component to the way he is regarded on the world stage.  As a black man who advocates for the issues confronting the “global South”–the masses of poor and hungry being victimized by war and other government machinations–who are both nonwhite and the majority of this globe, Obama has become a force of good and, potentially, much more good for the world.

Obama is, in global terms, an authentic voice for the world’s oppressed.  Some of this comes from nothing other than being who he is.  But all of it comes from his unwillingness to forget and depart from who he is.

The most significant thing he has done this year that has received less than the attention it deserved was his trip to the African continent.  That this was under the radar on the US domestic scene has probably as much to do with the Obama White House than anything else.  Timed to be part of a weekend, when press coverage is low, his administration might have feared the radical white backlash that would rather predictably come with a the nation’s first black President traveling to Africa.  The escalation of the “birthers” and the mainstreaming of their message didn’t help.

But it was a powerful weekend.  I still don’t think we, as a nation, have a firm grasp of the awesomely tragic ways European imperialism and slavery transformed the world.  I am quite certain we don’t appreciate the ways most of the global South continues to feel their affects.  While we think of these as things that have passed, they have no such luxury.  For those reasons, I am also quite certain few of us could appreciate the significance of a nonwhite person, in his capacity as the de facto head of the First World, symbolically “returning” to the Third World.  I don’t think we can fully appreciate the inherent possibility for change that brings with it.

Today, I think the Nobel selection committee did.

Mexicans after the U.S.-Mexican War

Beginning in spring 1846, after various diplomatic, informal economic, and unofficial militaristic attempts to take and occupy part of Mexico’s northern frontier, the U.S. declared war on its southern neighbor.  A decade after their politically unresolved dispute over Tejas, this war lasted for about one and a half years and resulted in the transfer of almost half of Mexico’s territory to the United States.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed on February 2, 1848 and ratified by both nations the subsequent spring, agreed to a payment of $15 million for the lost territory; settled the dispute over Texas in the favor of the United States; made stipulations about the land transfer; and detailed responsibilities and obligations regarding the actions of the Native Americans living on much of that land (many of whom never recognized a “foreign” power sovereignty over them and, accordingly, were hostile to Mexico and the United States).  The Treaty also detailed what was to become of the Mexicans living in the newly conquered territories.

Mexicans in the now occupied lands were to be protected under the laws of the United States and the Treaty.  They retained the right to their language, religion, and culture.  Their property and land was protected by the law.  As for citizenship, they were offered one of three options: 1) declare their intent to retain Mexican citizenship; 2) leave to Mexico; or 3) become U.S. citizens by declaration or by doing nothing.

This was the first time in U.S. history that citizenship was extended to a population that was not formally recognized as “white” by the federal government.

Two generations later, most Mexicans living in the U.S. no longer held title to their lands and found their cultural way of life increasingly under attack as U.S. white supremacy came to predominate.  In California, as land transferred from Mexican to Euro-American hands, a very racially-motivated Workingman’s Party dominated the call for a Constitutional Convention.  In 1879, that new Constitution not only made Chinese immigration illegal (the primary cause of the Party), but it also destroyed the legal protections Mexicans once enjoyed, rights promised to them in the 1848 Treaty.  California once required Spanish and English as the languages of it official business.  Now the new Constitution followed the already common practice of an English language state.

The “nation of laws” violated international and domestic laws in order to secure a democracy for some (white, European, male) at the expense of others (Mexican and nonwhite).

For more information, see:
Racial Fault Lines: The Historical Origins of White Supremacy in California (Almaguer);
Manifest Destinies: The Making of the Mexican American Race (Gomez); and
Border Citizens: The Making of Indians, Mexicans, and Anglos in Arizona (Meeks)

For more details on life for Mexicans in California after the war, see the classic Decline of the Californios: A Social History of the Spanish-Speaking Californias, 1846-1890 (Pitts).  The newer Negotiating Conquest: Gender and Power in California, 1770s to 1880s (Chavez-Garcia), which pays particular attention to issues of gender and sexuality, is also an excellent source.


On the death of a warmonger

Robert S. McNamara died this morning at the age of 93. If you don’t know who he is, you can read his obituary in the NY Times, the LA Times, or his Wikipedia page. For more in-depth discussions of his life and legacy you can watch the 2004 Oscar-winning film The Fog of War, or read his 1995 autobiography, In Retrospect.

My first inclination with the passing of McNamara is to say something sarcastic and mean, not out of a desire to hurt his family but out of a need to make a statement against the actions this man took in his life.  But I find myself doing what I just did in that last sentence: thinking about his family, or anyone who might be feeling loss due to the man’s passing today.


McNamara deserves to be understood as a weak and misguided man.  On the latter point, he is no different than any number of government and military officials for more than half a century who were so wedded to the myth of the “domino effect” as to be blinded by the overwhelming evidence they collected that it was nothing but metaphor.

On the first count–on his weakness–perhaps he is also linked to an “army” of so-called leaders who forget to cherish the lives of the people who put their games of war into action, in addition to the lives of those whose deaths are the objects of those games. Robert McNamara served a government in a capacity which brought him tremendous power and responsibility. But, in his crucial moments, time and time again, he traded his obligations as a human being for the exigencies of that master.

A liberal-pragmatist might say men like McNamara are necessary when we need them to do the things we cannot.  I don’t agree.  In the world we have created, in the systems we have made and rely upon to define what is possible and necessary, perhaps. But that human-made reality must always be checked by the greater responsibilities we have to humanity and to the planet on which it resides.

In some ways, he recognized his failures as a human.  His autobiography, his public opposition to further US immorality in war, all these were rooted (at least in part) in his sense that what he did was wrong.  He might have been motivated more by the need to protect his historical memory but, in so doing, he did recognize the primary challenge to that legacy would be his all too-human failings. I think that is what is keeping me from being callous in my assessment of his death.  Maybe he needed to be better and be contrite for those he left behind.  Maybe I can empathize with them.  Indeed, maybe we have the responsibility to do so.

It would be easy to call Robert McNamara “evil.”  Whether or not he was is meaningless to me. The undeniable fact is he caused more human suffering than can be measured and he did so, in the end, for nothing.  But it would also be a disservice to the millions who suffered as a result of his actions to dismiss him so casually.  He was nothing but a man, yes, but a man whose failures were almost pre-determined by a government that would have exiled anyone who struggled for true, human “success” in his position.

This understanding is not meant to be absolution for the soul of Robert S. McNamara. Rather, it should be taken as an indictment of those of us who remain, as we continue to propogate a rationale of this world that necessitates war, that dismisses the tragedy of organized human death, and that, far too often, forgets to remember.


Obama continues covert airstrikes

In what seems to be his first approved act of war (though this does not meet the legal definition of it), Obama approved the continuation of the US covert airstrikes in Pakistan.  Yesterday, AP reports some 22 “militants were killed by what are likely US missiles launched by remote drones.

Pakistan: Toll from US missile strikes reaches 22

By ASIF SHAHZAD – 2 hours ago

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — The death toll from two suspected U.S. missile attacks on al-Qaida bases in northwest Pakistan has risen to 22, officials and residents said Saturday. Eight suspected foreign militants were among the dead.

A senior security official said Pakistani authorities were trying to determine the seniority of an Egyptian al-Qaida militant believed to have been killed.

Friday’s attacks were the first since the inauguration of President Barack Obama, and suggest that he will allow U.S. forces to continue targeting al-Qaida and Taliban operatives inside Pakistan’s lawless tribal belt.

Pakistani leaders complain that the stepped-up missile strikes — more than 30 since August — violate the country’s sovereignty and undermine the government’s own efforts to tackle rising Islamist violence at home.

However, U.S. officials have defended the tactic and say missiles fired from remotely piloted aircraft have killed a string of militant leaders behind attacks in Afghanistan and beyond.

Three intelligence officials told The Associated Press that funerals were held Saturday for nine Pakistanis killed Friday in Zharki, a village in the North Waziristan region.

The officials, citing reports from field agents and residents, said Taliban fighters had earlier removed the bodies of five suspected foreign militants who also died in the first missile strike Friday. Initial reports put the death toll from that attack at 10.

A senior security official in the capital, Islamabad, identified one of the slain men as a suspected al-Qaida operative called Mustafa al-Misri. He said it was unclear if the man was a significant figure.

The second strike hit a house in the South Waziristan region. Residents and security officials say eight people died in the village of Gangi Khel.

Resident Allah Noor Wazir said he attended funerals for the owner of the targeted house, Din Faraz, his three sons and a guest.

“I also heard that three bodies had been taken away by Taliban. They say they belong to foreigners,” Wazir told the AP by telephone.

All of the security officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The United States does not acknowledges firing the missiles, which are believed to be mostly fired from drones operated by the CIA and launched from neighboring Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s government has little control over the border region, which is considered a likely hiding place for al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden and other terrorist leaders.

Obama is making the war in Afghanistan and the intertwined al-Qaida fight in Pakistan an immediate foreign policy priority. He has not commented on the missile strike policy, but struck a hawkish tone during his election campaign.

Also Saturday, Pakistan’s government welcomed Obama’s decision to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

A Foreign Ministry statement Saturday said Obama’s decision was a step toward “upholding the primacy of the rule of law” and would add a “much-needed moral dimension in dealing with terrorism.”

Pakistan helped the United States round up hundreds of militants in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, including several al-Qaida leaders still incarcerated at Guantanamo.